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Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace

Out of Shadows

by Jason Wallace

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While on the surface Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace is about the bullying and torture of some students in an all boy’s school, but when added to this are the setting of Zimbabwe and the timing of the early 1980’s, shortly after the war of Independence, you then realize this is also a book that shows the wide divide between blacks and whites in that country at that time. The black government of Robert Mugabe was establishing itself and taking back many of the controls and land that up to then had been in the hands of white people only.

The emotions run high at Haven Boys School, as black students enter the school, the historical houses of the school are forced to take on African names, and black teachers are added to the faculty. Many of the white boys hold grudges that sprang from the war. The main character is Robert Jacklin, newly arrived in Zimbabwe from England. At first he befriends a black boy but after being mistreated and becoming an outcast he eventually finds himself having to make the difficult decision to step away from this friendship and join in the with other white boys.

Out of Shadows was a painful, intense read. The racism on both sides was obviously fed on fear of the future and memories of the past. The worse offender was also seeing his father lose his farm that had been their home for generations but as time went by, this boy changed into a psycho white supremacist who was impossible to appease. The author delivers a political and complicated story that paints a vivid picture of how bitter the feelings were between the defeated whites and the newly-in-power blacks. A very good read that perhaps was a little over done in places, but it was aimed at a younger audience who perhaps wouldn’t have grasped a more subtle storyline. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | Jan 25, 2017 |
Superb debut novel centered in an elite private boys school that begins in the early 1980s when Rhodesia has become Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe has taken power as Prime Minister. A riveting story that explores deeply and thoughtfully a host of compelling themes and subjects: colonialism, racism, guilt, bullying, inequality, justice, revenge, and much more. A richly layered, gripping story! ( )
  Sullywriter | Apr 3, 2013 |
Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace is set in the newly renamed Zimbabwe and begins in 1983. Robert Jacklin is 13 years old, and miserable. His father, a civil servant for the British embassy, has dragged his mother and him away from his beloved grandmother and childhood home in England to attend an elite boarding school in the newly independent Zimbabwe.

At the ironically named Haven school, Robert becomes instant friends with Nelson (symbolic?) Ndube, a gentle, intelligent black boy, one of only a handful at the school. The two outsiders vow to watch over each other like brothers in this bootcamp run by racist, bullying prefects still bitter about having lost the 15-year civil war.

Because Robert is the school’s only “Pommie”, a Brit, he is subjected to Head Boy Greet’s torments more intensely than the others in his grade. The lonely English boy is desperate for his mother to remove him from the school, but as she sinks deeper into alcoholism and depression he realizes he can no longer depend on her, sealing off his heart from her for protection. As for his well-meaning but ineffectual father, who drones on “like a history teacher” about "the terrible things the whites did to the blacks" and how the new prime minister, Robert Mugabe, is “a good, peace-loving man”, Robert feels only shame.

It’s not long before Ivan (The Terrible?) Hascott, starts tormenting Nelson for being black, and working to split up the two outsiders. At first Robert doesn’t even like his bullying classmate, but for reasons the newcomer can’t explain, there’s a certain element of dangerous intensity and charismatic appeal about him that the English boy finds so seductive. So much more appealling than sticking with the saintly Nelson is the relative safety offered by bad boy Ivan’s “friendship”. Soon he dumps Nelson and is spending all his breaks at the Rhodesian boy’s family farm, where he meets his new friend’s bigotted, abusive father, who has disowned his eldest son for being a “poof”.

By this point Robert is afraid to lose Ivan’s sponsorship, and he knows that the bully will not accept him having any other friends, especially not “Kaffirs”. You’d understand if you’d seen what the “gooks” did to us in the war, seems to be Ivan’s logic. According to Ivan, “Africans are born cruel”. It’s the way they are, but not all of them are stupid. They often made sure someone was left to tell of what they’d seen. That’s what terrorists do”. The irony, of course, is that, like many bullies, Ivan doesn’t see himself as one.

In spare prose, Wallace confront race issues head on, unflinchingly depicting the brutality of war – both the previous and the ongoing undeclared one. We even learn that one of Ivan's henchmen, Klompie, had a brother who was found "pinned to a tree with his own cock in his throat". Much of the other violence is only alluded to, but this only strengthens the psychological suspense.

After Ivan throws his arm around his new recruit’s shoulder and says, “You belong here. With us”, “us, the English boy is so swelled up with belonging that he’ll do almost anything to stay on the ruffian’s side. So when Ivan says, “I just told you what his (Nelson) sort are capable of, you can’t trust him. Steer well clear. Don’t you see? Don’t you”?, Robert does, disturbingly, being to “see”.

Like Robert, we, too, begin to “see”. The author is walking a tightrope here, almost having the reader sympathize with Ivan and the white supremacists. However, his skilled use of Robert’s narration as unwilling accomplice to Ivan’s vicious “games”, as well as the technique of repentant foreshadowing, work well. Though we understand Robert’s actions, it becomes increasingly difficult to sympathize with his cowardice, so deeply involved is he in Ivan’s crimes. But fortunately for Robert – and for us – he has an epiphany when, in his final year of high school, he runs into Greet, realizing he has become the very bully he despised. The time has come where he must acknowledge what he’s known all along: that Ivan is demented, and he must put a stop to the Rhodesian’s most ambitious plan yet.

As heart-pumping as the thriller climax is, it is this part of the novel that is its least convincing. Far more gripping would have been a deeper exploration of Robert’s dawning realization of just what Ivan’s devious Lord-of-the-Flies-style “games” the English boy didn't witness involved -- these are only hinted at, but our own dawning realization is shocking enough. Also interesting would have been a closer look at the psychopathology of a character like Ivan since his actions cannot be attributed to racism and bitterness alone. Finally, considering all that these boys get away with, the reader has to wonder where the adults are and why they don’t have a clue what’s going on right under their noses.

If I were still teaching high school English I would definitely use this novel, though the violence and profanity would be sure to upset some parents and end up on the American Library Association's Most Challenged Books list. But isn’t that the case with so many good novels?

Out of Shadows is an honest, profoundly affecting coming of age novel reminiscent of Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One and William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies. Wallace’s story had me turning pages all through the night, and the next day I was ready to begin reading it all over again. A must read for English teachers, school librarians, YA authors and anyone interested in African colonial history. ( )
  lizw9 | Aug 19, 2011 |
Books that transport students to other countries are always books that capture my attention, especially books like Out of Shadows in which we travel back in time to Zimbabwe during President Mugabe’s problematic rule during the eighties. I enjoy when this travel forces us to confront our views about race, but from the context of a less familiar government and a less familiar social structure. In this novel, Robert Jacklin is caught between the conflicting positions of his father, a White British Embassy employee, who is pleased with Mugabwe’s attempt to restore land to the people, the Black people from whom it was originally stolen. Initially Jacklin forms a bond with one of the Black students at his new school. However, the pressure from the racist White students proves too much for Jacklin to handle and he joins the racist students and even participates in their “games,” which is a code word for abuse and torture. The strength of this novel is in its unapologetic look at both the racist culture that produces the White students and the corruption that is inherent in Mugabwe’s government. At one point, Jacklin’s class is asked whether or not they would “squeeze the trigger” if it meant the death of Adolph Hitler or Robert Mugabwe. Jacklin wrestles with this question when he realizes the leader of his group, Ivan, is actually planning to assassinate Mugabwe. The strength of the book helps to compensate for some pacing problems and some motivation problems in the beginning (Jacklin both adds and drops Nelson as a friend far too quickly and too easily) and an ending that is just a bit overplayed. The details about Zimbabwe, the moral dilemmas, the evenhanded exploration of both White and Black, the dramatic tension, and the history of this region make this one well worth adding to high school libraries.
  edspicer | Jul 9, 2011 |
A powerful story of the history of Zimbabwe, using an elapsed time, first person narrative of a schoolboy-to- adult, ex-patriot, British protagonist.

Deftly handled themes of racism, colonialism, alcoholism and the ability of power to corrupt are presented through the lens of life in a single sex boarding school. This debut novel, already an award winner (Costa Children’s fiction prize 2010) is beautifully crafted with evocative prose, which at times soars. Frequent, explicit scenes of torture and violence make this a more mature read than others on this year’s Carnegie Medal shortlist. But what a read – outstanding. ( )
  celerydog | May 19, 2011 |
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In 1983, at an elite boys' boarding school in Zimbabwe, thirteen-year-old English lad Robert Jacklin finds himself torn between his black roommate and the white bullies still bitter over losing power through the recent civil war.

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